ANGELS OF GOD
THE BIBLE, THE CHURCH, AND THE HEAVENLY HOSTS
By Mike Aquilina
Servant Books, 2009
(123 pages, $12.99, paperback)
A lot of people like angels these days, especially sweet girly ones. They like them, one suspects, because they are spiritual beings who aren’t God. God tells you to do things, angels do things for you and they look cute on t-shirts and coffee mugs.
Mike Aquilina’s new book, Angels of God, explains why angels are good news for us, though they may not be the kind of good news we want. The job of the guardian angel, for example, is “to get his charge to judgment, prepared as well as possible,” and that preparation may really hurt.
But accepting the angels’ aid and following their example will make us happier in this life and bring us to heaven. And so, Aquilina notes, “Our fellowship with them is not an ornament on our religion; it’s a life skill.”
Angels of God begins by describing the angels of the Bible and how the Church has drawn out the biblical teaching in its understanding of the orders of angels and the work of guardian angels, and of the angels’ place in the Mass. It then describes the three angels whose names we know — Michael, Gabriel, and Rafael — before discussing briefly the right response to the fallen angels. It closes with instruction on how we should “walk in the company of angels.” The book includes a short appendix of prayers to and poems about the angels.
Aquilina, a prolific author who lives in the diocese and is often seen on EWTN, gives an exceptionally clear and accessible introduction to the subject, but that is not all. He shows us that the world is a much happier place when you remember the angels, not least the one looking over your shoulder, and it is a safer place when you remember the fallen angels who wish you harm. The study of the angels is a very practical doctrine.
How is it practical? Let me give just two examples. First, it helps us better understand the Bible. Many of us tend to blank out all the times the angels are included — and they are included a lot — as if they were merely decorative. But they’re not.
For example, how many of us have shot through “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” with no thought at all about who is it doing God’s will in heaven? With at most the vague thought that we are asking that things be better here on earth?
Actually thinking of all the hosts of angels serving God in perfect love and freedom, each doing his part, like a vast chorus (angels do sing a lot), gives us an inspiring vision of what the Church should be and how each of us should be living before the Lord. It changes the way you say that prayer. At least it did for me.
And there’s more. Playing off the mistake that “heaven” refers to outer space and not “the realm of the spirits,” Aquilina notes that “We’re praying not that we might be more predictable, like planet and asteroids, but that we might be as morally sure and true as the angels are.” Thinking about the angels gives us a more precise idea of what we’re asking for.
Second, knowing about the fallen angels and their powers helps us understand the necessity of the Catholic life. Aquilina doesn’t spend much time on “spiritual warfare,” pointing out that too great an interest in the demonic is just as dangerous as ignorance.
The danger isn’t primarily the dramatic demonic possession so loved by movie-makers. “Possession is most effective (I believe) as a distraction,” he writes. While people are worrying about being possessed, and paying too much attention to the fallen angels in general, “we’re neglecting the drab, ordinary temptations we face at home and at work. We give in to laziness, rudeness, impatience, lying, and passive lust. And then the enemy has his foot in the door.”
The Catholic’s response is simple: First, “Avoid occasions of sin.” This includes the occult. The boy on whom The Exorcist was based opened himself to the demonic through a Ouija board.
Second, remember that “Satan recoils from anything holy,” like making the sign of the Cross, using holy water, receiving Communion, reading Scripture, praying earnestly (“even if it’s only the childish rhyming prayers you remember from when you were young”), and confessing your sins.
Angels of God introduces the subject very well, but that is not its only value. By showing us how the angels serve God, and especially how some of them serve God by serving us, it encourages us to serve Him better, because we know we have friends in high places.
David Mills’ Discovering Mary: Answers to Questions About the Mother of God will be published in August. He and his family live in Pennsylvania.
This review originally appeared in the Pittsburgh Catholic.